Rs 250 pp 334
‘I wish to be in a state of unconditional love.’ It’s not an answer to a beauty pageant question — ‘What power you wish you had’ — but a response in a moment of reflection that Samit Basu’s new book may pose to the reader. Turbulence is a fantasy thriller about a bunch of ‘suddenly superhumans’ who, in a bizarre twist of fate, have landed up with powers they didn’t quite anticipate.
So Nerdy Aman can now find his way through the entire World Wide Web, jumping passwords and protocols; Tia, mother of a three-year-old, doesn’t have to face the conundrum of choices anymore — she just replicates herself each time; British-Pakistani starlet Uzma is instantly liked by anyone she meets and flight lieutenant Vir Singh can, um, fly. On the other side is Jai Mathur, another air force officer and a megalomaniac who wants to control the world with his clutch of sidekicks.
Basu seems to have swallowed up the world, digested it and spat out a new universe where everything has crossed the tipping point. You get the powers you always wanted, the world has changed the way you want it to… and then? If everyone’s wishes were fulfilled, would the world actually become a better place? And better for whom? Turbulence tries to address these existentialist questions and more.
The plot — good guys, bad guys, grey guys, confused guys — runs a fairly predictable trail and makes way for a grand finale. The passages describing Aman’s inward virtual journeys are striking, and the sharp wit punctuating edgy twists provides relief from certain tedious action sequences.
Basu engages with the contemporary world — battle for supremacy among countries, nuclear armaments, intrusive infusion of the internet, scams, corruption and role of the media — connecting them to personal issues of power, free will, ego and the likes.
The start of the book sets the tone for these reflections and you may start out cynically, as if you’ve heard it all before. In the end, however, you do know that not caring about the world around us isn’t cool anymore. But neither is heavy-duty brooding about wanting to change it. At a cusp of ferocious change around us today, the world is looking for a superhero — a way forward.
Many spiritual masters talk about a sense of playfulness, a lightness of being without losing focus. A ‘radical’ activist recently told me the issues they take up affect many lives — and deaths. “But we believe in waging our struggles with smiles and laughter.” This book may not change the world but it manages one of the journeys to the centre of the self with enough seriousness and fun.
Safe to say, my induction to fantasy novels wasn’t disappointing.